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Defeated Republican Lawmakers Make Lemonade Out of 2006 Lemons

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Former Pennsylvania Rep. Curt Weldon now works for a defense contractor. (AP)

In Washington, D.C., down does not mean out.

Barely six months ago, the political ground shifted underneath many once firmly planted Republican office holders. A Democratic midterm election wave upset and uprooted many Republicans after a series of arduous and sometimes nasty campaigns.

But GOP politicians have hardly been washed away forever. In Washington, as in other levels of elected government, life can come after defeat, and sometimes it can be a very lucrative one.

"Being a former member of Congress carries with it an edge that most folks' resumes don’t have and I would suggest that there are very few members who have trouble finding employment," said Human Events magazine political editor John Gizzi, who for decades has covered the political tides, as well as the occasional typhoon or tsunami.

"It's healthy for people to move on," said Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican public relations strategist in Washington. "If you define yourself as a senator or congressman and then you lose that office and you don't have a plan, then you stagnate. This town is filled with former congressmen and senators who never recovered from losing their seats or regretted retiring from them."

To be sure, some of the biggest "losers" of 2006 have opted for high-profile "plan Bs". Former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who lost a hard-fought re-election bid to Bob Casey Jr., has joined the Pittsburgh-based law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott as a consultant.

But that's not all that his new life entails. The socially conservative father of six has also signed on as a FOX News contributor and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

Called "the most vulnerable incumbent senator" for most of the midterm election cycle, and having taken knocks for everything from his residency outside Pennsylvania to past comments about homosexuality and teaching intelligent design, Santorum seems to have landed on his feet, said Sean Evans, a political science professor at Union University in Tennessee.

Current ethics laws on Capitol Hill restrict former members of Congress from lobbying lawmakers directly for one year after leaving office, but many get hired as consultants in that time. However, Santorum's office said he is not consulting for the firm's lobbying shop. The firm's press release announced he would be providing "business counsel" in the firm's Washington, D.C office.

Evans said despite Santorum's loss in November, he would be a hot commodity if he were to decide to lobby on Capitol Hill in the future.

"Obviously he had to have the respect of his colleagues, the skills to be in the leadership, enough to where a lobbying firm wants that kind of person," Evans said. On top of that, the go-to guys and gals on Capitol Hill "are already his friends."

But fewer lobbying jobs are available for Republicans these days, just by virtue of their new minority status in Congress.

"There is a finite number of jobs. It's not just members of Congress, but their staffs, too, that are getting their resumes out. You know some of them are on food stamps," joked Shirley.

Really, he said, they are not that bad off thanks to the thin majority Democrats carry in both chambers.

"Democrats can't run roughshod over Republicans," Shirley said, and influential firms will still hedge their bets by hiring plenty of lobbyists from both party. "As long as the government continues to grow and spend more money, there will be lobbying firms to hire staffers from both sides of the aisle."

Santorum isn't the only Republican to sign up with a lobbying firm. Republican Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., lost his seat in November after 10 terms representing a Philadelphia suburb.

While in office, Weldon was dogged by ethics questions and at least one federal investigation relating to his lobbyist daughter and federal contracts she was able to procure for her clients. He vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and just got a job as chief strategic officer for Defense Solutions, a firm that lobbies for defense contractors.

Republican Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., was forced out of office after seven terms due in part to his campaign contributions from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cozy ties to big energy companies. He just signed on as a consultant with Pac/West Communications, a Republican-led firm that had worked closely with Pombo on the Hill and had been a big supporter of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil drilling, a position supported by Pombo when he headed the House Resources Committee.

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns from Montana, who lost a squeaker race against Democrat Jon Tester, also had some unfortunate associations with Abramoff. In January, Burns joined Gage Business Consulting and Government Affairs, a Washington-based lobbying firm.

"Lobbyists don't care (about lawmakers' past baggage) unless they are convicted," said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Some former lawmakers actually have ended up spending their post-congressional life behind bars. Former California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is serving eight years in federal prison for bribery, tax evasion and fraud, and former Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney is serving two and half years in prison on charges that he obstructed federal investigators and took gifts and favors from Abramoff in return for favors on Capitol Hill.

Former House Speaker Tom DeLay, the Republican "hammer" who tumbled from grace after 22 years in office, has not been convicted in an ongoing money laundering and conspiracy case in Texas, nor has he been indicted for any role in the Abramoff scandal, though two of his former aides have been convicted in the last year.

He still has a base of conservative support, and has been able to stay in the limelight since he dropped his re-election bid last year. He is currently on the lecture circuit, a pundit on television and is touting a new tell-all memoir, "No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight."

"They never blame themselves," Shirley said of defeated politicians, and so they typically have the confidence to parlay their experience into lucrative career opportunities shortly after losing the election, striking when the fire is still hot.

Others have gone into high profile, but non-lobbying positions. Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen, who lost a stunning upset to Democrat James Webb, was tapped as the Reagan Ranch Presidential Scholar at the Young America's Foundation.

One of the few Democrats to leave Congress unceremoniously last election has also ended up with an embarrassment of riches. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who nearly became the junior senator of Tennessee, but instead lost his House seat, is now trying on a few different hats, including FOX News contributor, guest professor at Vanderbilt University, vice chairman at Merrill Lynch and head of the Democratic Leadership Committee.

Experts say politicians like Ford, who show some interest in running again for office, will typically stay out of lobbying if they can help it. In the meantime, Washington always has a welcome mat out for its own.

"Washington is still a cozy enough insiders' club," said Ellis Henican, political columnist for Newsday. "When you are in, you're in and when you're in, you're rich."

Editors Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified former Sen. Rick Santorum as a "lobbying consultant." Instead, Santorum was hired by Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, which has a lobbying division, to provide business counsel in their Washington D.C office.